CRIMINALS who are down on their luck are being handed free food vouchers by the police.
The voucher allows each offender to collect three days’ worth of food from North Staffordshire’s foodbanks.
Staffordshire Police have handed out seven ’emergency food’ coupons since starting the scheme.
Foodbank organisers today defended their decision to provide offenders with free provisions.
But some residents’ leaders raised concerns criminals are being rewarded for their behaviour, and law-abiding people may be put off donating items.
In the latest case, a penniless shoplifter was cautioned and handed a voucher as he left the police’s Etruria custody centre after admitting stealing two items of food from the Co-op in Shelton New Road, Hartshill.
The shoplifter told The Sentinel: “I stole two items of food, not to sell but to eat. I am unemployed, single and had to spend my benefits on vet treatment for my dog. I was given a caution and well and truly learnt my lesson. As I was leaving a sergeant beckoned me and said: ‘We don’t often give these out but take this please’.
“It was a voucher for a foodbank which I redeemed the next day. Humanity is alive and well. I apologise for my actions and am thankful we have such kind people working in the force.”
Stoke-on-Trent Foodbank has nine distribution centres across the city including Hanley, Abbey Hulton and Burslem.
It has received 100 tonnes of food and handed out food parcels to 3,500 adults and children.
Police officers started handing out the vouchers in March.
A police spokesman said: “Seven food bank vouchers have been handed out to individuals in need from custody officers at the force’s Northern Area Custody Facility.”
On the shoplifter’s plight, the spokesman added: “The arrested man made an honest and frank disclosure that he had stolen a small amount of food because he was hungry.
“He handed the stolen food back straightaway. A caution was deemed most appropriate.
“The custody sergeant deemed this individual met the strict criteria for a foodbank voucher.”
Stoke-on-Trent Foodbank project manager Sue Simcoe said: “People deserve to eat. It is a case of a human being in need getting three days of emergency food.”
But East Bentilee Residents’ Association chairman Alan Joinson criticised police for handing out the vouchers.
He said: “It’s ridiculous. It is encouraging people to shoplift. They will think if they get caught they will get some free food. It will probably put people off donating – I wouldn’t want something I had given to go to a criminal.”